The lessons to draw from the American poll are a major challenge for the cohesion of the European Union.
The results of the American elections embody numerous lessons among which one of the most significant may be the health of democracy in the United States, as demonstrated by the record level of voter participation despite the widespread Covid19 pandemic that was neutralized through a massive recourse to absentee and postal balloting.
If the 145 million votes expressed testify to the implication of the elector after four years of an “atypical” presidency, the results point, nevertheless, to an outcome that allows both candidates to boast achieving “historical” scores. So, even if the result is undeniable, it leaves behind a thoroughly divided country in which the defeated camp retains a justified hope in its capacity to overcome the more than honorable defeat of its candidate.
It becomes, therefore, essential to analyze the cause of this apparently “surprising” result. The most likely explanation for the resilience of the “populist” vote incarnated by Trump is that it is the expression of a context that reaches far beyond the borders of the USA; it has prevailed – with different degrees of intensity – in the recent victories witnessed in the United Kingdom, Poland, Hungary, Turkey or Brazil or made significant inroads in Italy, France, Germany Belgium, Spain, etc.
Its growing appeal reflects the loss of trust of the population in its self-proclaimed political elites whose representatives in power – whatever their party – have presided during the last 30 years over the explosion of inequalities (reinforced by Covid), the growing security threat of terrorism, an increased impact of climate change, an extension of geopolitical tensions, etc. Within such a context, basic social norms have been challenged creating religious and philosophical confrontations, favoring the emergence of groups claiming an endless litany of demands covering subjects such as “equality of rights, freedom of expression, or the primacy of competing values/norms (sanitary, economic, constitutional, religious, sexual, etc.)”, all of which create new divisions to which existing institutional architectures – specifically democracies – find it difficult to offer coherent answers.
A situation of urgency, in which priorities come into conflict (as, for instance, health and the economy), implies making compromises which appear arbitrary and encourage acquiescing to – if not requesting – the introduction of measures restraining normal freedoms that could prove difficult to abolish once the urgency is under control. The American elections is an emblematic example: under what appears to be a traditional split between the democrat and republican vote, the result reveals that “trumpisme” is endorsed by nearly half the electorate leaving both traditional parties deeply divided.
Within the context of the growing rivalry between the United States and China, the affirmation or weakening of such a trend within the world’s greatest power will have planetary consequences. Confronted with this situation, Europe should avoid two major pitfalls:
First to be satisfied with a role of spectator and miss the opportunity to proclaim and implement a policy of “Europe First” alongside those of “America First” and “China First”, with the specific aim of weighing in the debate and securing the triumph of multilateralism.
Second, to oppose Member States who express their geopolitical ambitions from a purely “national” viewpoint, comforting them in the illusion that they can compare themselves to the USA or China. The EU must talk with one voice if it (and its 27 members) wishes to be heard on the world stage.
The relief felt after Biden’s victory makes it convenient to believe that one can postpone, once again, decisions that are urgent if one wishes to establish the EU’s sovereignty. Making one’s influence felt in the areas of geopolitics, defense, the economy and finance, research and development (as demonstrated in the search for a Covid19 vaccine), the environment, etc., can only be successful at European level where, despite notable achievements, much remains to be done. The enviable leadership position that the EU can be justifiably proud of in the areas of international trade and global warming does not compensate for its vassalization to the USA in matters of defense and currency as well as its growing weakness relative to China and the USA in terms of research and development.
The pandemic has considerably aggravated the economic and financial situation of Member States and imposes taking urgent measures. One can certainly rejoice over the bold and speedy national support schemes implemented as well as the proposed Community level responses still waiting final approval. The latter sketch the outlines of a long term solution whose implementation is necessary to ensure a viable and bright future for the Union: the creation of a federal Europe.
To come to this conclusion is not an umpteenth attempt to impose the “political project” that has been – ever since its creation – the avowed or rejected objective of many of the Union’s advocates and opponents. If the case for a “federal” solution for the EU has become inevitable, it is because it is the only path able to muster the human, financial and technological means necessary to guarantee that its population will enjoy the benefits of a truly shared sovereignty.
Indeed, the rapid deterioration of the financial situation of the Member States requires the mobilization of resources that far exceed the capacities of most of them individually; this, even without taking into account the additional funds required to support the population as well as number of ruined economic sectors, at a time when fiscal receipts are dwindling, is the situation to be confronted even before considering funding any substantial recovery plan. This situation has been recognized by the EU with the proposal of an aid program to Member States of €750 billion, augmented by the resources of the 2021-27 plurennial financial perspectives (€1,1 trillion) to which should be added the resources of the EMS, of the EIB, not forgetting those (unlimited?) of the ECB to the extent that the latter continues to benefit from the trust of the market in the Single Currency.
Ensuring the long term survival of the € becomes, therefor, the absolute priority of the Union, without which there is no escape from the looming crisis. Indeed, the current fragmentation of the political and economic European landscape (taxes, regulations, financial markets, etc.) which have been exacerbated by the pandemic (restrictions on mobility, diverse sanitary regulations) expose ever more strongly the survival of the Eurozone to the default of one of its Members; such an outcome would become unavoidable failing to implement a legal (federal) basis to the solidarity enjoyed by those who share the same currency.
This conclusion, in turn, implies the urgent enforcement of the existing treaty by imposing the extension of the Eurozone to all 27 Member States so that the financial resilience of the € would rest on the combined resources the entire Union. As is the case in the United States, this would free an enormous amount of additional financial resources (measured in tens of trillions of € over the next twenty years) based on the wealth and the size of the Union’s territory. The long term credibility of the support interventions and regulatory supervision of the ECB on the one hand and the multiplication on a large scale of EU backed borrowings on the other, would reinforce each other creating an equilibrium within the system that is totally out of reach for individual Member States. Furthermore, the financing at European level of entire areas of expenditure (defense, environment, foreign affairs, immigration, etc.) would restore flexibility to national budgets which, in exchange of the “federal” support, would be subject to stringent rules of budgetary equilibrium.
Such an approach attempts to bring a rational answer to the current heated debate surrounding the sustainability, the refinancing and/or the amortization of the current bout of excess indebtedness (needed and inevitable) that has been created by the pandemic. It fosters the current atmosphere of anxiety, abetted by ideological prejudices, which, if not carefully managed, is conducive to trigger a financial crisis of planetary dimensions.
While making every effort to benefit from Joe Biden’s election to promote the cause of multilateralism to the detriment of counterproductive “nationalism”, this goal can only be achieved if the EU gives itself the necessary tools to protect its vital interests.
It is not too late but there is no time to loose!